In less then 48 hours I will be on my way to New Orleans.
I have always had strong emotions about Louisiana.
When I was younger and would be on road trips with my dad that took us along I-10…I was terrified. I would pretty much hunker down in the car and try to not look out the window as long as we were in the state. Whenever we had to stop to get gas or something, I would be terrified. This state seemed filled with foreigners who lived a life so different from mine that I only knew to be scared of them. This was all made up in my head. I have no idea where this fear came from and I don’t really remember when it went away.
For my 30th birthday, Matt (my friend since birth) and I were going to join forces in New Orleans for our birthdays. We had done that for our 21st in Vegas….and it was great. But just as plans were starting to come together, Matt was diagnosed with cancer. NOLA would be waiting. That was 2003, and until 2005, I didn’t really think a lot about Louisiana, one way or another.
Then the storm hit. THE storm. It didn’t seem possible that an American city could be under water, let alone one that was so beloved. It didn’t seem possible that we would let our people languish in horrible conditions. Die in attics. Drown in their own homes…..days after the storm had passed. For some reason I took this somewhat personally. I had never been to NOLA and now it was so close to being a shell of it’s former self, I might never get to go. I was pissed. I went to the Austin City Limits Festival 3 weeks or so after The Storm. Hurricane Rita was taking a similar path to that bitch Katrina and more folks were finding their way to Austin. We offered to put a couple of folks up in our hotel room as ACL had made housing hard to come by…but they thanked us and just kinda hung out. We saw them a few times over the 3 days we were there and I listened to countless stories about The Storm. Personal stories, not clouded with political opinion or anger, simply stories. Stories that still resonate in my head. Just basic survival. Pulling themselves up by their boot straps. Sure, these weren’t residents of the Lower Ninth and had a lot more going for them then a lot of people, but your home get’s demolished and it hurts as much if you are in a shotgun house in the Lower Ninth or a Mansion in the Garden District. Home is home.
It took a couple more years before my obsessive nature perked up and I was all about New Orleans and Louisiana. I’m not ashamed to say that True Blood sparked a lot of interest. Then I found myself working with a girl from NOLA. Outside of her earshot, early in my tenure there, another coworker found it ridiculous that the girl from NOLA thought that Katrina effected her more then 9/11 did. Um….her house was underwater. Her childhood was washed away. Her mom was living on a barge and dealt with death threats because she worked for the Army Core of Engineers. She once said, a tall building in NYC makes little difference to a girl from NOLA.
Shortly after I met her, the documentary When the Levees Broke showed up in my mailbox from Netflix. For four straight hours I watched this story unfold. I’m not normally a huge Spike Lee fan because I don’t like to be hit over the head with his “message”….but unlike the topic of the documentary, he used a soft touch and let the story tell itself. I cried. Man did I cry. Then I got pissed. Super pissed. And them embarrassed. The next workday I apologized to my co-worker on behalf of all the people who let her and her city down. From that point on, it was NOLA obsession deluxe!
I read about the food.
I read about the history.
I read about the geography.
I would spend hours on Google maps trying to get my bearings of the area, even though I had read enough to know that even those born and raised there have a hard time finding their way around sometimes.
I read books about The Storm.
I read books about life after The Storm.
I read books about life before The Storm.
I read restaurant menus and hotel reviews.
I made lists of places to go and things to see.
I pictured in my head all of the things I wanted to experience there.
I could hear the music playing.
I could smell the food.
I could see the architecture and the people.
I still can.
At this point I feel I am almost pregnant with anticipation for arriving in NOLA. I am heavy with excitement. I have so many plans and so many expectations. And the date is so close I can’t stand it! People have said that they are worried it won’t live up to my expectations. I more fear that it will exceed them and I will be so pissed that it took me 37 years to get there.
I guess we’ll all know soon.
But not soon enough.